Emily Whalen: Making Plans, April 20, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Emily Whalen
Preparing to Board NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
April 27 – May 10, 2015

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey, Leg IV
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Maine

Date: April 20, 2015

Personal Log

Next week I will be boarding the Henry B. Bigelow to participate in the Spring Bottom Trawl Survey as part of the NOAA’s Teacher at Sea (TAS) program.  Before I leave, I am frantically working to assess my student’s work, plan projects for them to work on while I am gone, spending time with my family and also planting seeds in my vegetable garden so that I will return to lovely little green seedlings!   Although this is my first time participating in TAS, it is not the first time I will be headed off to sea for an adventure on a boat.  After graduating from college, I spent several years living and working on sail training vessels where my job was to take kids out sailing and get them excited about the ocean.  One of my favorite things was setting a trawl net and hauling it in by hand so that we could teach kids about whatever fish, invertebrates or plants  we caught.  I always loved the moment the net reached the surface and I could catch a first glimpse at what was inside!

Getting ready to teach kids about a giant sea hare, something we will NOT catch during the bottom trawl survey!
Getting ready to teach kids about a California Sea Hare, something we will NOT catch during the bottom trawl survey!

It was on one of these boats nearly ten years ago that I first heard of the Teacher at Sea program.  I was sailing with a group of high school students from Brooklyn, and one of their teachers had just returned from his TAS trip in Alaska.  At the time I was considering becoming a teacher, but one of the things I was struggling with was the thought of being indoors all day, every day, year after year.  Hearing about his trip made me realize that becoming a classroom teacher didn’t mean I would literally have to stay in the classroom all the time!  In the years since then, I went to graduate school, got married, moved to New Hampshire, taught middle school science for a few years, and most recently started teaching high school science at Next Charter School in Derry, NH.

Spring skiing at Mount Sunapee!
Great spring skiing is one of the perks of living in New Hampshire!

One of the great things about teaching at my school is that we spend lots of time outside the classroom.  I have been able to take kids hiking, running, snowshoeing, to museums and exhibitions, on the T into downtown Boston and even on overnight trips to an island!  In fact as I am typing this, my hands are muddy from taking our students to a state park and building a log bridge as part of an earth day initiative.  As a staff, we are constantly pushing our students to step outside their comfort zone and interact with new people, visit new places and try new things.  Hopefully they realize that this is exactly what I am doing when I head out to sea next week!

Ice skating with some of the students at Next Charter School!
Ice skating with some of the students at Next Charter School!

When I leave, I will be spending two weeks on board the Henry B. Bigelow, which is a 208-foot research vessel that was built in Mississippi and launched in 2005.  The boat has a sophisticated equipment on board that allows scientist to track, study and measure marine mammals, fish and other sea creatures.  The hull of the boat is designed to reduce noise, which allows for more accurate measurements and also prevents the animals that scientists are attempting to student from getting scared away.  I’m looking forward to learning more about the ship’s technology and how it allows us to build rich and robust picture of the species of the North Atlantic.

NOAA Research Vessel Henry B. Bigelow
A glamorous shot of the Henry B. Bigelow. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

Another cool thing about this boat is that the name was chosen by a group of high school students from my home state of New Hampshire as a prize for winning a regional NOAA contest.  When I mentioned this to my friend Forrest, who has spent lots of time on the water up and down the east coast, he suggested that the boat may have been named after the same Bigelow as Bigelow Bight, which is a geographical feature several miles east of the New Hampshire coastline.

My daughter Harper and my husband Jared looking out at Bigelow Bight from Portsmouth, NH
My daughter Harper and my husband Jared looking out at Bigelow Bight from Portsmouth, NH

After doing a little more research on my own, I learned that Henry Bryant Bigelow was a world renowned marine biologist from Massachusetts who spent his life making great contributions to the field of oceanography.  Aside from a NOAA ship, and marking on a nautical  chart, there are also over two dozen species of algae and protists as well as medal of achievement in oceanography that are named after him!

The next time I write, I will be well underway on my trip!  Please comment below with any questions you have or topics you would like me to write about!